Stay connected

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts.

Testimonials

Brenda has truly opened up a space for introverted types on the ‘net, and her self-revelations are always inspiring. Her voice is one I always look forward to. She is one of the writers that actually played a part in my return to writing.  — S.E. of Sunflower Solace Farms
S.E. of Sunflower Solace Farms
THANK YOU….. you just summed up my swirling thoughts into something i can read with out everything else in my head meshing with it. I finally feel like i can explain what happens within without getting distracted. I’m an Introvert with ADD and it makes it so hard to explain quite what im feeling sometimes. — M.G. on space2live
M.G.
During one of the harder times in my life I found Brenda’s website
and reached out to her. To say the least it has been one of the best
decisions I have made. Being an extrovert I never quite understood
what it meant to romantically involved with an introvert. Brenda does
an incredible job listening, giving in the moment feedback, and helped
me understand the how an introvert functions. She helped explain to me
that I am introspective extrovert, and this gave something to identify
with and allowed me t…
Evan H.
For the first time in my life I could truly explain, through your words the way in which I experience life and myself. Brenda… It all fell into place. I had found myself and had such a moment of clarity. It felt like such a big weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Finally I felt like it was ok to be me. I was not the only one. I had found people and a little space where I fit in. … I was at work and crying on the inside. Emotions ran wild inside me. I was ecstatic, sad, confused, motivated, i…
Niko
I have been dating an introverted man who I am very in love with for almost 2 years.  Reading your posts have helped me to be more supportive and understanding to him especially during the times when he needs space.  I just wanted to thank you for your weekly posts and let you know how helpful they are for someone who is in a relationship with an introvert. C.M. on space2live
C.M.
I think I want to print out your articles and hand them out as a sort of relationship waiver form. “You want to be my friend?….You are interesting in going out? Here read this first. Sign here to acknowledge that you have read and understand the enclosed material. Thank you.” Seriously. I think it would work. — Guerin Moorman
Guerin Moorman
Thank you for all the words. You’ve created the magic drug I’ve been looking for all my life. Your blog has transformed my life, and I feel like I am on the brink of a most satisfying fulfilling journey…You’ve made me see everything in a new light. I now feel calmer, able to care better for my toddler, less hateful of people around, and hopeful for my future. I am not so afraid for our marriage anymore. — Shilpa CB
Shilpa CB
BRENDA: thank you SO much! Your advice is exactly what I need to do. I am amazed how much you “get” me after only exchanging a few messages!… Again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve helped me more than a year of therapy sessions! – Megan on space2live
Megan
Your site has saved my sanity and my life. Maybe even my marriage. I work part time and have two young boys at home, my husband is supportive of me but until recently I thought I was going crazy. … Reading your writing not only inspires me to pick up the pen again, but gives me nourishment in the deepest places. I will fight for balance. Everything you write is spot on… And wellness is so incredibly multifaceted.  I was ready to give up hope, but understanding myself through your words is bring…
J.K.
Because of your blog, I know that it is possible for me to have the love that I want one day and that I don’t have to be alone.  — Indepthwoman  on space2live
Indepthwoman

Join us on Facebook

Growing Through Conflict: How Relationships Thrive after the Honeymoon Phase

girl in shadows of blinds

This post contains an excerpt from my book, The Quiet Rise of Introverts: 8 Practices for Living and Loving in a Noisy Worldavailable now on Amazon and in select bookstores.

 

 

The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.

— Joseph Joubert

There was a lot of conflict between my sister and me growing up. We knew each other’s Achilles heels and we used them. We had different temperaments and everyone pointed that out. She was the brash, confident, cute one. I was the quiet, feminine, sweet one. Our differences, instead of being appreciated, became points of competition—a constant subversive question of which temperament was better. Who was the victor? Despite being the older sister, I often felt like the lesser in my parents’ eyes and even in my own eyes.

My sister and I fought over everything from the front seat of the car to time in the bathroom. We did not create a safe loving place for each other. There was no progress or resolution or collaboration. I was happy to be out of the house with my friends or tucked up in my room away from the conflict.

One relationship influences another

Science has proven we choose mates who are familiar or even familial. They remind us of past relationships. I want to emphasize that familiar does not necessarily mean positive.

My ex-husband had the conviction, drive and aggressiveness of my sister. It was nice to have someone like him (her) on my team. He was in my corner. He could fight the dragons for me. He could shore me up where I was weak.

We were a good team until the sunshine went away. When I got overwhelmed and felt used and he got stressed and felt used, we became competitors. We both needed love and understanding but instead we competed for appreciation and respect.

We didn’t fight, but we suffered

My ex-husband and I did not fight outwardly. We suffered inwardly. We thought we were good parents and spouses because we did not fight. We kept the peace by giving up pieces of ourselves. We did not express ourselves openly. We harbored resentment. It became hard to be near each other because there was so much emotional subterfuge and suppression. We did not feel emotionally safe around each other. It was hard to connect.

According to research reported in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, couples that address and resolve their conflicts are significantly more satisfied with their relationships than couples that do not.

Good conflict moves us forward

In truth, we fight because we care. We believe there is something worth fighting for. Only in recent years have I learned to see conflict as two people figuring out a way to move forward together. And I can only do that on my best days, when I am not triggered by fear.

We must all learn a vocabulary to articulate what we want, to work through disagreement. We learn this by going through phases in our relationship that challenge us. Some call them post-honeymoon, gridlock, or power struggle phases. I call them Reality Phases. They are when we get real and find out if our loved one can and will stand with us.

Reality phase

Once one or both partners perceive permanence in the relationship, the struggle kicks in. This is when most couples break up. This is where conflict begins—both internal and external. We realize we have given up parts of ourselves for connection and want ourselves back.

Going on autopilot

Elements of automation and attachment surface during this stage. Neuroscience says our brains constantly look to simplify and automate processes to make less work. Think about when you start a new job. At first, it seems there is a lot to learn and our brains get a workout paying attention to every detail. Over time, parts of our job become second nature and we move through them with minimal effort.

Our relationships and our partners are no different. After a while with our mate, we think we can predict their behavior, so we do not have to be as attentive. We go on autopilot and send fewer texts, make less eye contact and use past experiences to forecast present ones. Our partner feels less seen, heard, and loved and usually lets us know by complaining, sulking or withdrawing.

What can we do to avoid these outcomes?

Love and fight consciously. Maintain attentiveness and presence. Do not go on autopilot. Stay attuned to our partner. Use conflict to grow and heal, make progress. Work through arguments until we both feel understood.

It should be noted the Reality stage cannot be skipped. Every couple on their way to a secure relationship passes through this struggle. This is when we learn to articulate our needs and generate empathy.

Fighting is healthy

            Remember, we fight because we care. We want to make our relationship work. How do we fight consciously? What does it look like when we don’t?

Let’s start with unproductive fighting, the kind that does not heal or resolve anything. It often starts with an event that sets one or both of us on edge. We may be activated internally by nuances or memories that remind us of past problems within this relationship or other relationships. Because of the triggering, we disconnect or distance ourselves from our partner emotionally and/or physically. This leads to an argument, which leads to reactive behavior caused by our primitive brain’s perceived threat. Reactive behavior could be anything from yelling and swearing to ultimatums to complete withdrawal to multiple “check in” texts throughout the day. The point is it is unproductive and usually leads to more distancing.

 

Triggering event –> Distancing –> Reactive Behavior –> More Disconnection

 

Conscious or attentive fighting is productive. It starts out the same with an inciting event and disconnection from our partner, but it moves into the type of arguing that aims for clarity and understanding. The goal is to work together until we each feel heard and understood. This kind of fighting involves empathy and responsiveness, subjects we will go deep into in the next chapter, but for now responsiveness means listening to our partner’s requests for attention and responding to them without clouding our reaction with our own autobiography or defensiveness. Once we achieve a feeling of being understood, we reconnect. Our intimacy improves and we move out of the Reality Phase and into the Secure Phase.

 

Triggering event –> Distancing –> Attentive Behavior –> Reconnection

 

As introverts and highly sensitive people, we often give up parts of ourselves to maintain harmony and avoid stimulating and uncomfortable conflict. In the end, this does not serve us. As I mentioned in my examples with my sister and ex-husband, it only lets the discomfort continue without any resolution.

 

To learn more about resolving conflict in ways that feel comfortable to an introvert or highly sensitive person, check out The Quiet Rise of Introverts. 

 

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

About the Author:

3 Comments

  1. Beth October 13, 2017 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    Brenda, Thank you for this post. I struggle when conflict happens between my boyfriend and I. Conflict of any kind, small or big sends me into an anxiety storm that leads to days of feeling unsafe and insecure about our relationship. I have learned about conflict resolution from ‘Getting the Love You Want’ and I want both of us to consciously ‘fight’ and understand each other yet I find it the most difficult lesson. Your insight helps me re-understand what is happening and why and helps me find the words and steps I want to take when conflict happens. I love your site and all your posts. Thank you for being you and doing what you do!

    • Brenda Knowles October 20, 2017 at 3:46 pm - Reply

      I’m glad you found some helpful reminders in this post Beth. Thank you for your kind words! Conflict is hard! It sends my nervous system into overdrive, but I’m learning to see it as a chance to go deep with my partner. If we can resolve issues together, we grow closer. The more we work through and survive, the bigger the trust we have for each other. One other important thing I’ve discovered – defensiveness is just a cover up for a real fear or pain. Working through defensiveness with genuine listening and care makes things progress a lot quicker. Best of luck Beth! If you continue to stay open to your partner, you’ll be good. 🙂

  2. michaelrbuley October 1, 2017 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    Brenda, you touched on a lot of stuff.

    I think sometimes we make it so complex. Our needs are really so simple.

    We want to know our mate isn’t going to run away.

    That he or she loves us like crazy through it all … lol …

    that he or she still thinks we’re beautiful and brilliant and wonderful

    That he or she believes in us, through everything and anything.

    And we need to hear those words. We need to say them, and hear them.

    Troubles and problems and conflicts aren’t going to away. I’m not sure why we freak out so much when they do. It’s like, um, here in Seattle, the rains are going to come. Dark days. Short days.

    And we go, god, I can’t stand this rain! omg the rain is driving me crazy! and we get mad at the rain! we’re SHOCKED that it’s raining! and we go nuts!

    We have problems. Disagreements. things make us upset, mad, irritated — almost always opportunities for us to learn about US …

    I told Carmen (whom as you know I in the process of divorcing) long ago … just tell me I’m brilliant, beautiful … tell me you’re crazy about me, that you’re happy with me. Say those things, say kind things to me — and just kind things. (We can express things we’re not happy about without denigrating the other.) Do those things for me, I said, and I will go to the ends of the earth for you.

    and I meant it — that I would go to the ends of the earth for her. I was clear on what I needed.

    I needed the verbal expressions, and not just once a week.

    the ‘time commitment’ to do that? Well … how long does it take so say those things? And why would you NOT want to say those things to someone you’re presumably in love with and crazy about?

    So … it takes a few seconds a day, right? seriously!! a few seconds!! yet with most couples, you hardly EVER hear truly sincere, enthusiastic expressions of love, passion, admiration, respect, gratitude.

    And we are surprised when someone drifts away to someone who DOES say those things?

    We need to keep saying (and send notes, too, texts; all forms of saying) those things we love about our mate.

    We invest all kinds of time in each other — work, meals, laundry, trips, shopping, kids. Countless hours.

    But we will NOT invest a few seconds a day, to stroke our mate’s ego, lift him or her up, and up and up …

    We vastly underestimate the impact when these words remain unspoken. And here’s the thing: speaking them ourselves … reminds US of the cool things we love about our mate.

    Do we think our mate is cool? I hope so, or why are we together? Then speak the cool … speak the cool! out loud! often. If that does NOT make things better? And instantly? C’mon. This is simple stuff! and we complete the hell out of it. In many ways, we are just plain ridiculous. I don’t want to say ‘stupid,’ but seriously — these basics — which we did at the beginning of the relationship — we quit doing!

    These are the very things that we needed — to feel wonderful about who we are. Our mate did that for us, we did that for our mate. It was wonderful.

    None of us stop needing to hear those things. Not one of us.

    But … people are just weird about it. And Carmen was, and is. And point blank refused to give me what I asked for. Even though I told her i MUST have this … and if I don’t, we will not make it. i made the stakes crystal clear. And what i needed crystal clear. A few seconds a day was all, really … a few seconds a day of kind words.

    Arguments … how about this?

    First, to possibly eliminate a lot of arguments in the first place (since they are rarely what we are arguing about; we’re pissed because we are hurt, angry, resentful — and I would say because we don’t feel loved any more!) ….

    We agree, starting right now, that we tell each other, not just ‘I love you,’ but we tag onto “I love you” something we really do love about him or her. Whenever we say I love you … and how about 3 or 4 times a day? Is that so tough? — we tag on something cool.

    “I love you, and I love that mouth that I get to kiss!’

    “I love you, and I am crazy about your smile!”

    “I love you, and I am so grateful for how you work!”

    “I love you, baby, and I love that a _ _ that’s all mine!”

    “I love you, and I love how sexy you look in the morning!” (wouldn’t that be cool to hear? let’s use our imagination, have fun with this, play! explore! wonder! and laugh with each other!

    If we have an argument? Not if … when. Let’s plan for it.

    Here’s the plan.

    Whatever our argument is, we agree — cardinal, hard and fast rule we MUST abide by — at the end, no matter how angry or hurt we might be, we BOTH AGREE IN ADVANCE …. we will say … “I love you no matter what. I am crazy about you, and I ain’t going anywhere, and neither are you!”

    lol … something like that! It makes me laugh to write it! I wonder what it would be like to hear it, and say it, in those moments. This ‘coming back’ to the basics: I’m f-ing crazy about you, okay? So chill … we’ll get through this.

    And we get back to saying kind things … kind things, uplifting things.

    We go to psychiatrists and therapists and all this b.s. All the while, we just want someone to tell us we’re beautiful. We’re cool. We’re awesome. We’re a great person. We make a difference. And ‘I love you’ does NOT convey those things. “I love you” becomes so trite, almost … so lazy … like it’s some excuse for not saying more.

    ‘I said I love you! What more do you want?” That sound familiar to anyone?

    Well, I want MORE! Listen up, and I’ll tell you! But weird pride and hurt and just plain weird sh_t really messes things up. But if we want more … now we’re the ones complaining. right? Shouldn’t we be happy with ‘I love you’? Isn’t that the most important thing?

    Well, love EXPRESSED is the most important thing. Love not expressed, will die, and does.

    Whew. okay. my thoughts for the day ….!! lol ….

    Brenda, this stuff just frustrates the H out of me because our needs are really pretty simple … aren’t they? Did we need a lot of ‘stuff’ when we started out? Wasn’t the attraction that we felt better about who we were, with our mate? Our mate did / said things that made us feel brilliant, beautiful, wonderful, amazing, special, desirable, worthwhile …

    And then we quit saying those things. We quit saying those things. We just quit. And we can get all the therapy we want. But there is no relationship that is going to survive and thrive, without those expressions, and often. Its like watering a flower … water, sunshine … words are those things. And most of us leave our mate completely parched … and we wonder why the love dies! lol … um … are we idiots here? Are we missing the simplest and most important of things?

    In many ways, I think so ….

Leave a Reply

Stay Connected
Sign up for updates now and receive a FREE guide for setting boundaries![icon name="heart-o" class="" unprefixed_class=""]
We respect your privacy.
%d bloggers like this: